newspaper 43: August 2004
Is this place for rent?
By Jan Mot
BRUSSELS, 22 FEB. - As the fourth part of The Gallery Show, Jan Mot and Daniel van der Velden had a conversation by e-mail regarding the gallery’s newspaper which is designed by Daniel and his colleague Maureen Mooren.
After having chosen the new colours for the facade and interior walls of the gallery, Joe Scanlan has now made a new contribution to The Gallery Show: he designed three new tables for the office spaces. What follows is a fragment of a letter to Scanlan in which I respond to some questions and remarks the artist made in a previous e-mail.
(...) Moving from the old, small gallery to the new and bigger one in many ways improved the functioning of the gallery. There are now two exhibition spaces, I have a real and permanent office space, enough storage for the archives. There is even a toilet and a kitchen. The old gallery was still a kind of extension of the private spaces, even if the exhibition space had for me the feel of a very tiny but nevertheless museum-like space, with the light coming from above and the beautiful proportions. The new space is very open, certainly if you compare it to the hidden aspect of the previous one. In the beginning I was afraid of this openness. Probably I think art is a very private thing, something to cherish on your own or with some friends in intimate surroundings. When I had just opened the new space, I sometimes felt like having a shop. As you know the space used to be a shop. I had anticipated this, and therefore it was very important for me to work on the new facade with a good architect, to make the transition from street to exhibition space, this ‘face’ of the gallery into something with a special value. I think the architect succeeded in that very well. Because the thing I was most afraid of, this openness, I now consider that to be it’s great quality. It is through using the space that this became clear. I now want people to look inside; every morning I clean with pleasure the hand, finger and forehead prints on the glass! I think of two shows where the facade and the openness worked especially well: Tino’s show of and Dora’s, total opposites: Tino turned the gallery into a theatre stage, the public was both outside and inside the gallery, and Dora closed the gallery, painting the glass with white chalk and blocking the view. Another thing was that I thought that in such an open space visitors would feel uncomfortably exposed to the street. It seems now that was also an unnecessary fear. I have certainly more visitors than before and they stay at least as long. There is indeed a new kind of visitor: people entering without knowing what the function of the space is. So the question most often asked then is ‘Is this place for rent?’
Although the old and new spaces are in the same street, the difference between the two parts is amazing. Being between fashion stores before was something I didn’t particularly appreciate, but it was never a problem either. The new neighbourhood is certainly very pleasant and lively, almost exotic but sometimes a bit depressing, the life of an immigrant is certainly not very enviable. But there is a great mix of all kinds of people in the part of the street where I am now, that’s great, also to have a great bar opposite of the gallery is a considerable advantage.
When I take a break during the day, I seldom look at the show in the gallery. I mostly stand behind the windows and look outside, at the people sitting at the terrace of the Walvis, the bar, or at people just passing by. Recently I made someone I vaguely knew enter, he seemed quite shy and had never dared to ring the bell. He immediately bought a work and has become a good client since. I have the great luck of having the best framer of Belgium and Holland as my neighbour. I think some people have discovered the gallery thanks to him being so close.
I don’t particularly enjoy the ritual of opening and closing the gallery – I don’t have a security gate. But when I clean the pavement or the windows, I am always amused because I think then of my colleague shop keepers in the street who all do the same, from the night shop keepers to the high fashion shop owners. I then think that it would be funny if we would synchronise this cleaning and all sing a song with gusto.
Back inside. I am very happy that the tables you designed for the office as well as the shelves we recuperated will soon be installed. It has been quite a long process, and I am sorry for having changed my ideas so often. I am sure I will be very happy with them and that they will make me work more in this space. The small exhibition space in the back will change its function, which is also a result of our long discussions. It will be a meeting room, not a lounge and not a ‘killing room’, in which a separate, very small exhibition will be held. The first one will consist of two portraits of Rineke. So if people come and want to talk and receive more information on an artist we can sit, there and no longer in the office, which was too small and unwelcoming. This is going to be a big change for me. (...)
I hope that we will continue working on the design of the gallery in the future. There are still some things I want to change, improve or experiment with. I want to make it into a unique place, because of the art which is shown but also because of the attention given to the space, the details of it and the way in which visitors are welcomed. The old space was exactly how I wanted it from the start, rough but precise, small but grand, intimate and not hiding anything. The new space had to be made and it is still being made. I enjoy that a lot, so much that I don’t mind it taking time. It feels I can express myself not only through the exhibitions but also in making the space. And I love to do that in dialogue with people like Christian, the architect, and you. I hope a lot of collectors will come and sit at your table, feel the good vibes and buy. So that I can invest more in this process. (...)